Barcelona burn off Celtic challenge with strong first-half show
Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez see action during International Champions Cup
Daire Walsh at Aviva Stadium
Leigh Griffiths cancelled out an opening strike for Barca from Arda Turan, but courtesy of an Efe Ambrose own goal and a routine Munir Mohamed finish, the five-time European Cup winners secured an accomplished 3-1 triumph in front of a crowd of 47,900.
While next Wednesday’s crunch Champions League qualifier against Astana is the main priority for Bhoys boss Brendan Rodgers, this game did present the Antrim native with another opportunity to run the rule over young Irish centre half Eoghan O’Connell.
The 20-year-old Corkonian, a cousin of rugby legend Paul O’Connell, was coming up against a formidable Barca attacking trio of Messi, Luis Suarez and Munir, but it was excellent approach work from the overlapping Aleix Vidal that set-up Turkish international Turan’s superb curled effort on 11 minutes.
This was an early blow for Celtic, but lone striker Griffiths – who lived off scraps for much of the opening period – got his side back on level terms just shy of the half-hour mark.
There appeared to be no danger when netminder Jordi Matip gave a short pass to Jose Martinez, but a heavy touch by the Barca defender presented the diminutive Griffiths with a simple finish into an empty net.
Celtic weren’t on level terms for long, though, as a Juan Camara cross from the left-flank after 31 minutes was turned into his own net by the unfortunate Ambrose. This was a hammer blow for the well-supported Glaswegians following Griffith’s much-needed equaliser, and with five minutes remaining in the half, they were facing into a two-goal deficit.
The masterful Messi kick-started another incisive attack with an exceptional cross-field delivery, and after receiving a simple pass from the dangerous Luis Suarez, Munir comfortably claimed a third goal for Barca.
As expected, Celtic opted for wholesale changes at the start of the second half, and although Barca only made one alteration their line-up, Messi (who cut short his holiday to take part in this section of the club’s pre-season) made way for Sergi Samper.
When you consider Barca enjoyed 63 per cent of the possession (coupled with their upcoming European exploits) before the break, it was understandable that Rodgers wanted to introduce fresh legs, but reserve shotstopper Leo Fasan had to be alert to turn away a 57th-minute Denis Suarez effort.
Further changes followed from both teams beyond the hour mark, and as a result, the pace of the game started to drop considerably.
With the likes of Suarez, Turan and Jeremy Mathieu withdrawn from the action, Barca finished the contest with a largely inexperienced side. Yet, even though recent signing Moussa Dembele brought a physical presence to the Celtic frontline, Luis Enrique’s formidable charges eased towards a deserved victory – their first of the tournament.
CELTIC: Gordon (Fasan, 46 mins); Janko (Ralston, 63 mins), Ambrose (McCart, 63 mins), O’Connell (Ajer, 46 mins), Izaguirre (Fisher, 77 mins); Brown (Rogic, 46 mins), Bitton (Allan, 46 mins), McGregor (Armstrong, 46 mins); Roberts (Ciftci, 46 mins), Griffith (Dembele, 46 mins), Forest (Christie, 63 mins).
BARCELONA: Masip (J Suarez, 77 mins); Vidal, Martinez (Lopez, 77 mins), Mathieu (Santos, 61 mins), Camara (Perdomo, 77 mins); D Suarez (Mujica, 61 mins), Roberto (Alena, 61 mins), Turan (Carbonell, 61 mins); Messi (Samper, 46 mins), L Suarez (Alfaro, 61 mins), Munir (Gumbau, 77 mins).
Referee: N Doyle (Ireland)